Interview with N. John Bey
N. John Bey established Bey & Associates in Atlanta, Georgia, growing his firm from just himself to now over fifty staff and an office in Cincinnati, Ohio. Besides his business acumen, John is also an accomplished attorney. He was recognized as a 2015 Rising Star in Super Lawyers Magazine, and also as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer. He is a faculty member of the American Association for Justice National College of Advocacy and is a graduate of the American Association for Justice’s Ultimate Trial Course at Harvard University’s Law School and the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College. We sit down with John to discuss the growth of his firm and his own professional growth.
Lawyer Minds: John, tell us what type of work you do.
John Bey: We primarily handle personal injury cases. We have everything from med mal to trucking, nursing home, and regular car wreck cases. And we handle personal injury and wrongful death cases across the country.
Lawyer Minds: Your firm has experienced exponential growth. First of all, congratulations. Can you tell us how you’ve grown over the last six or seven years, and talk about some of the things that you’ve done to deal with the issues that come from growing a law firm?
John Bey: Sure. So, I guess to start out, my thoughts on growth have always been to kind of do it conservatively. I’ve never really been in love with the idea of growth just for growth’s sake. I see it as adding more folks as you need them, to service the clients. For me, I’ve never hired someone and said, “Well, we’ve overdone it.” It’s almost always, “we should have hired this person six months ago. This was a great idea.”
And also, it almost feels like there’s a cultural change every 10 new hires or so. For some background, it started out with just me, then next came a legal assistant, and then another attorney. There was a time when we could push the firm culture by just going down the hall and having a conversation. The bigger we get, the more formalized that has to be. Those things have to be in writing, and it’s important to have morning huddle meetings so that we can express those values and make sure that we’re still client focused in everything we do.
And as you bring more people in, those people have their own experiences that they bring in, including the culture of other firms they worked at. So, it’s kind of like having a family dinner every night. You’ve got to work a little bit harder to remind everybody of what you stand for.
Lawyer Minds: Now that you have a large office, what are things that you do to make sure that the office culture is where you want it to be, especially in times of COVID-19?
John Bey: Well, I think number one is we’re always kind of emphasizing that we’re client focused, client focused, client focused. Then also just knowing that we’re all under lot of stress, especially handling injury cases, and knowing that everyone deals with stress differently. So, on Wednesdays we do what we call “Wellness Wednesdays.” We’ll do something different, whether we’re doing something physical in a group workout, or bringing in people for mindfulness, or bringing someone in to teach a healthy nutrition class. Every week we do something different to develop people in different areas. We do a lot of different lunch meetings. We also try to focus on our training efforts — whether that’s with our case management software or something new that came out — like the recent Hitech rulings. The important thing is that we’re evolving and always learning from and with our team.
Lawyer Minds: It sounds like you’ve got a lot of different kinds of meetings. What do you do to avoid having a meeting for the sake of having a meeting?
John Bey: I try to make them short and quick. If we’re having a huddle meeting, I want that huddle meeting to be 15 to 20 minutes. It’s not the time when we go through every case. Since we’re working with quick answers, we can connect to make sure that we’re all marching to the same drum. Zoom fatigue is real and I think we’ve all kind of faced it here in the last few weeks.
Lawyer Minds: On your huddle meetings, do you do those as small groups or a firm as a whole? And, if you’re doing those in small groups what kinds of things do you expect your staff to report on in those huddles?
John Bey: Small groups are easier. I expect them to report on things that are urgent, things that have popped up. I like to take it from the approach of, “What are the things that they need from me? What are the questions that only I can answer and what are the questions that only they can answer?” That way we’re only focusing on the most important things. Also, I like to try to address the “the frog for the day.”
I had another lawyer tell me to eat the frog first because everything is easier after that. So, “What’s going to be the toughest thing for today and how can I get after that first thing?” I always emphasize eating the frog first — “What’s the frog that’s on their plate?” Because sometimes maybe their frog is something I can help with or somebody else in the huddle can help them with.
Lawyer Minds: You’re the current chair of the AAJ membership committee. Talk about where you see value in AAJ and why you’re a member.
John Bey: I think the real value of AAJ can be summed up in three things. First, education. Next, advocacy for your client politically. And then there’s networking — the ability to be around and have this free thought with other attorneys who are similarly situated and going through the same thing. It’s the power of the group, so to speak. I came into AAJ through education. I was getting my teeth kicked in and I wanted to get better. So, I went to a deposition college. That was a game changer for me. After that, I found myself going to a lot more education events. I’ve probably been to or taught at hundreds at this point.
Lawyer Minds: Do you send your lawyers that work for you to AAJ events or education?
John Bey: Absolutely, especially to the Depositions College or the Essentials College. Last year, we had an attorney who we sent up to Harvard for The Ultimate Trial College. If it’s something that I’m using that I’ve learned from AAJ education, then I want my associates to be able to do the same thing. It’s a lot easier for me to send them out there to learn from some of the very best rather than me teaching them everything I’ve learned. It’s almost like the telephone game — something may get lost in the message.
And there’s also another benefit to that. When you go to one of these events — and I’ve seen it from associates — you come back energized, and you’re thinking about the cases that you’re working on while you’re there. And, you’re getting some substantive feedback on stuff while you’re right there at the event.
In fact, I don’t think there’s been a year since I’ve had associates that I have not sent one or more to an AAJ event.
Lawyer Minds: Have you signed up your associates for the AAJ AMPED-UP event yet?
John Bey: I have and it’s going to be great. The great part about it this year is that it’s a lot cheaper. Since we usually send multiple people — between the flights and the hotel and everything else — the cost is a big plus this year. And they’ve got so many different CLEs that you can kind of divide and conquer on different tracks. So, no matter how many different practice groups you have, you can send your associates in different directions.
Lawyer Minds: And since you’re the membership chair, we’ve got to join and go for people that are not yet AAJ members that want to go to AMPED-UP, right?
John Bey: That’s absolutely right. And you know, the great part about that is if you’re not a member, you should join now — because the event is cheaper and it will be even more so for newer members. So, if there ever was a time to join AAJ — well, this is the perfect time.
Thanks to John for taking the time to provide his insight with the rest of the Lawyer Minds family.
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